Shortcuts That Make Sense

I think I first heard the expression when I read the Fellowship of the Ring for the first time as a teenager:  “Shortcuts make long delays”.  I always took that expression to heart and I try not to cut corners in my woodworking (other than breaking the arrises). Sometimes, though, shortcuts make sense.

For instance, I rarely cut through tenons.  Unless they are for a specific design element, or the wood is particularly thin in the first place, through tenons just aren’t necessary  They look cool, and I guess a through tenon might add strength in the right situation, but why do the extra work if you don’t have to?  For that matter, why cut a full length stub tenon when a shorter stub tenon will do just fine?

Side rails to keep the legs rigid and square.

Test-fitting the side rails for tight fit between the shoulders and the legs.

On the mini workbench, I had cut some 1.125 inch tenons on the side rails (see above).  Then I looked at the thickness of the legs themselves (1.5 inches) and the position of the rails (flush to the underside of the bench) and determined that a .75 inch stub tenon would be more than sufficient.  A .75 inch tenon would translate into a mortise that I could chop in a single pass back and forth, saving time overall.  So I hacked half an inch off each of the tenons.

So I hacked half an inch off the tenons.

It’s not lazy; it’s efficient.

The side rails will still do their job  with the shorter tenon (i.e, keeping the legs rigid and square front to back), but that’s more a function of the tight fit between the tenon shoulders and the leg than a function of the dept of the mortise.

Stub tenon or not, that's a tight fit.

Stub tenon or not, that’s a tight, square fit.  And yes, I keep my miter box on the floor.

Speaking of shortcuts, I have also decided I’m not going to mortise the front and back rails into the legs.  Instead, I will half-lap and screw them into the insides of the legs, mainly because I’d like the ability to remove or re-position the slatted shelf if necessary in the future.  Mortising those rails into the legs would make that much harder.  Plus, it will save me a bunch of time (and I really enjoy the ease of cutting half-lap joints).

So next time you’re planning out a woodworking project, think long and hard about any available efficiencies.  I’m not saying scrap the corner dovetails on your tool chest in favor of nailed rabbet joints (although that would be perfectly fine if done correctly).  But I am saying don’t go overboard if you don’t need to do so.



  1. Hey , been reading your blog for a month or so now and appreciate you sharing your stories. It can be a lonely place in a bad way in the ol workshop if things go bad. Seeing other folks make mistakes and show how they recovered is invaluable. I will add you to my web sites to visit on my blog if you don’t mind.

    Cheers, from Round Rock

    Liked by 1 person

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